We will leave some traces, for we are people and not cities—Ionesco, The Chairs
Steven Dietz is lying to you. You think you’re going to see a play written by a playwright and instead you get poetry written by a poet disguised as a playwright. Even worse, this play does everything poetry is supposed to do. Poetry can take you to church and the juke joint. Poetry can leave you bereft of your own words; it can simultaneously make you feel like the only person on Earth and connected to everyone in the room and the world. In the mouths of capable elocutionists, poetry can be a dangerous, seductive thing. It can move things around in you, and of course, good poetry would never ever dare leave you the same as when you first met it.
The new theater company in town, Project SEE Theatre, has brought the play, Lonely Planet by Steven Dietz, to Lexington. Directed by Evan Bergman and featuring Tim Hull as Jody and Nick Vannoy as Carl, Lonely Planet is set in Jody’s Maps, a small map store on the oldest street in an American city. Jody and Carl are old friends, we can tell. They have an energetic rapport, they play games, they talk in dreams. And their friends are dying all around them mowed down by AIDS.
Jody, incapable of confronting his deepest fears, eventually resorts to a solitary orbit and refuses to leave his shop. But Carl won’t stop beating down the door to bring bits of the world back into Jody’s life. By the second act, Jody can barely move around in his store without quite literally tripping over these invasive but silent testimonials. As the play’s synopsis observes, “Lonely Planet reveals to us that true friendship is the safest place to be, and as the world around us spins out of control, a single human being may be the only fixed object to hold onto.”
As testament not only to Dietz’s lush, evocative script, but to Bergman’s directorial vision along with Hull and Vannoy’s renderings of these two characters, the audience enters and exits Jody’s Maps feeling like friends. From a crash course on the “Greenland Problem,” to a mock broadsword fight, the origins of the Apollo 17 “Lonely Planet” photo, and waiting for baited-breath-seconds for Jody to decide to leave his store, Hull and Vannoy carry us as effortlessly through this play as though we are all made of wicker. Like the Ionesco quote from The Chairs, Jody and Carl inevitably imprint us with their vulnerability and their universality. And for those audience members who are geography enthusiasts and waiting for a bit of cartography shop-talk, we also leave knowing that according to “Peter’s Projection Map,” an equal area map, the country of Chad is bigger than the entire American west coast.
Project SEE Theatre (PST), founded by Bergman, Sully White, and Ellie Clark, seeks to provide “a fellowship of artists dedicated to engaging our community through redefining the theatrical experience for artists and audiences alike; to make theatre that is visceral, provocative, inspirational, and accessible to all.” Working in collaboration with KCTC (Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory), PST has a dual mission beyond bringing a well-executed production to our city. Proceeds from ticket sales go towards Moveable Feast. Founded in 1998 in Lexington by arts activist and enthusiast, the late Michael Thompson, “Moveable Feast Lexington prepares and delivers hot, freshly cooked meals, five days a week, to people living with AIDS/HIV-related illnesses as well as individuals who are patients of Hospice of the Bluegrass…Individuals are served without regard to race, sexual orientation, political affiliation or national origin.”
Sponsored by AVOL (AIDS Volunteers, Inc), Lonely Planet also features stunning art work by local friends and artists that commemorate the faces and spirits of Lexingtonians ravaged by the disease. These works are showcased on paper and donated doors in the hallway leading into the theater as well as lined up in the periphery of the black box. The artists include Kristen Murphy, Phillip March Jones, Pat Gerhard, Georgia Henkel, Althea Wiggs, and John Ridener, and are for sale or available to be bid on through silent auction.